Saturday, June 01, 2019

Why this Askenazit can't speak Ashkenazi Hebrew anymore

When I first moved to New York City, I joined a synagogue that was not just Zionist, but militantly so.  They didn't use the (an?) Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew just to be modern (or whatever), they used it as a matter of Zionist principal.  We actually had an incident, back when I was a member of the Ritual Committee, in which a congregant petitioned for the right to chant a haftarah in Ashkenazi Hebrew.  The decision of the Ritual Committee was that a person would be permitted to chant a haftarah in Ashkenazi pronunciation, but not to lead the congregation or read the Torah in Ashkenazi, the principal being that only when performing a ritual that did not involve another person or persons was anyone allowed to use Ashkenazi.

This militant approach to Hebrew pronunciation has had a lifelong effect on my own personal practice.  Though I credit my parents with having ensured that I knew how to read Hebrew and knew about all of the major Jewish holidays, I learned roughly 75% of what I know now about Judaism as an adult.  I'm actually almost entirely self-taught when it comes to prayer and ritual, and I learned all of this while, or after, I was a member of my original New York City synagogue.  The result is that most of what I know, I never learned in Ashkenazi in the first place, and, as a result of my having been a member of a Sefardi-pronumciation-only congregation for over a decade, it simply never occurred to me to maintain my ability to go back and forth between Ashkenazi and Sefardi Hebrew pronunciation.  So it throws me to hear recordings of Israeli singers singing prayers set to original music in Ashkenazi Hebrew, and it also throws me to hear people my age or younger leading services in Ashkenazi Hebrew.  Only recently did it finally dawn on me that, for many Zionist Ashkenazi Jews, it's perfectly normal and natural to use Ashkenazi Hebrew for prayer and Sefardi Hebrew for everything else, and that I'm the one who's weird.

[Friday, July 12, 2019:
I should probably mention that this post was inspired by a trip to the Hadar website, where I heard Rosh Beit Midrash Dena Tannor Weiss, a woman vastly more knowledgeable than I but probably not more than half my age, chanting/teaching nusach in Ashkenazi Hebrew.]



Anonymous Mr. Cohen said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sun Jun 02, 09:09:00 AM 2019  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Sorry, Mr. Cohen, but, if you'd like to post your own political statements, you'll have to post them on your own blog.

Sun Jun 02, 08:13:00 PM 2019  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is not Sephardic pronunciation. It's modern Hebrew, which is neither Ashkenazi nor Sephardic. Nor is it Israeli.

Were it Sephardic, you'd have gutteral ayins, aspirated hets, and depending on where you were from, possibly a distinction between a gimmel and a jimmel, not to mention a taf and a thaf (but only hard core Yemenites).

Modern Hebrew has the taf sound the same regardless of whether there is a dagesh, and standardizes the sound for a kamatz and a patach. But it ain't Sephardic.

And if you ever daven with Israeli Ashkenazi chareidim, they easily switch between Ashkenazus and Israeli Hebrew. One is the language of prayer, one is for communication.

Wed Jun 05, 07:40:00 AM 2019  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Point taken--modern Hebrew is not really Sefardi, nor is it "Mizrachi." (My Syrian Jewish friend calls her community "B'nei Edot haMizrach", my Iraqi Jewish friend calls his group "B'nei Adot haMizrach," so I don't know which is correct, or whether both are correct.) I have fond memories of a Yemenite Israeli who taught the Ulpan class that I took in my twenties--her spelling tests were easy, because, with her Yemenite pronunciation, her chet was much lighter that her chaf, and her ayin was clearly distinguished from her aleph. I still can't pronounce an ayin properly.

"And if you ever daven with Israeli Ashkenazi chareidim, they easily switch between Ashkenazus and Israeli Hebrew. One is the language of prayer, one is for communication." Yep, that's pretty much my point. The synagogue of which I was a member for over a decade did not make that distinction, so I never learned to do that. More's the pity--it would be nice to be able to go back and forth with ease.

Wed Jun 05, 10:57:00 AM 2019  

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